Asbestos concerns raised

To coincide with Asbestos Awareness Week, WorkSafe is reminding employers and workers of the need to focus on good work practices to prevent people inhaling fibres.
News article published

Tuesday 22 Nov 2011

Industries and topics
  • Construction
  • Asbestos

The manufacturing, use, re-use, sale, storage of asbestos-containing material has been banned in Australia since 2003. However, the widespread use since the 1930s and 1940s means that asbestos is present in the community and remains a potential risk to health.

WorkSafe Operations General Manager, Lisa Sturzenegger said the major issue with asbestos was exposure to fibres during removal work and when working on asbestos-containing material such as when hand cutting or hand drilling.

Ms Sturzenegger – who will speak at a memorial service remembering those who have died from an asbestos-related disease in Morwell on Friday at 11am – said because of a delay in the onset of disease, the number of people with asbestos-related diseases was yet to reach its peak.

A Safe Work Australia report released in August this year found 660 new cases of mesothelioma were diagnosed in Australia in 2007. That same year, 551 deaths were attributed to mesothelioma in Australia.

While it is illegal to use asbestos products, materials containing it were used in over 3000 products, including under tiles in kitchens, laundries and bathrooms, wall and roofing material and as a form of insulation around pipes and in switchboards.

“Where asbestos is in good condition, there is little potential for exposure, however when asbestos fibres are released into the air, they can be inhaled and become lodged in the lungs where they may trigger diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer,” Ms Sturzenegger said.

“It is essential that people who may have to work with products containing asbestos are informed of the potential health risks, are provided with appropriate safety equipment and have, and use, safe work practices.”

Ms Sturzenegger urged employers and home owners to prevent exposing anyone to asbestos fibres – whether it be themselves, workers, their children or members of the public.

“Employers have obligations under health and safety laws to provide a safe workplace for employees and people who are not their employees. There are specific laws relating to asbestos that must be complied with.”

“Asbestos can be difficult to identify; if you’re not sure whether a material contains asbestos, treat it as if it does or arrange to have a sample analysed by a laboratory accredited by NATA to carry out asbestos testing.”

“Workplaces must identify the presence of asbestos and the results of this audit must be recorded in an asbestos register, which must be kept up-to-date and accessible. The presence and location of any asbestos in the workplace must also be clearly indicated. Direct labelling of asbestos is usually the most effective way of doing this.”

“Asbestos removal from a workplace is generally required to be done by a WorkSafe-licensed removalist. Licence holders are also required to notify WorkSafe before any asbestos removal work is carried out. It is recommended that homeowners also use licensed removalists.”

The Gippsland Asbestos Related Diseases Support group memorial service will be held at the Centenary Rose Garden, Commercial Road, in Morwell at 11am. For further information on the service and other activities, please contact GARDS on 5127 7744 or visit:  

Additional information:

WorkSafe is one of three agencies in Victoria that provides information on asbestos.

WorkSafe provides information to help employers and workers understand the risks of asbestos, how to comply with their duties, and resources for managing and removing asbestos in workplaces. Please visit:

If you are a householder intending to work with or remove asbestos from your home, the Department of Health can assist you. It has a useful publication called ‘Asbestos in the Home’

If you are involved in the disposal or transportation of waste asbestos, please contact EPA Victoria.

Information on requirements for asbestos removal:

In most cases, asbestos removal from a workplace must be done by a removalist licensed by WorkSafe, or trained employees of a licence-holder.

Class B licence-holders are only permitted to remove non-friable asbestos such as asbestos cement sheet, eaves or pipe; and must comply with a number of requirements. These include appointing a supervisor to oversee work, using specific methods for removal, waste containment and waste disposal, using signs and barricades, and wearing appropriate personal protective equipment.

Class A licence-holders are permitted to remove higher-risk friable as well as non-friable asbestos. They must comply with the same requirements outlined above for Class B licence holders, but must also implement a range of specific measures to carry out the work safely and control the risk, including using enclosures for friable asbestos removal work and always having the nominated supervisor on site.

Removing asbestos without a license: In very limited circumstances, some asbestos may be removed without a licence if done so safely and in accordance with the regulations. This is possible if the area of asbestos-containing material does not exceed 10 square metres in total, and the total time spent by the employer on any removal work (including their employees) is less than one hour over the space of any seven days.